I can hear them behind me. I can hear their heavy breathing getting louder… closer. I’m not fast enough. My chest heaved and muscles burned as I pushed myself to go faster, deeper into the forest. Suddenly, the earth seemed to slip from under my feet and I was falling. I hit the floor with a gasp. The thudding of their feet was louder now. I had to move. I tried to stand up but my body ached in protest. I can’t run, but I have to move. I tried to drag myself across the ground when I saw it; a large oak tree with its roots growing up out of the ground, leaving a hole just large enough for me.
I pulled myself inside just in time to see paws sprinting past. I clenched a hand over my mouth, scared they’d hear my haggard breaths, but they didn’t. Once I could no longer hear them, my body seemed to relax. “Thank you,” I whispered up to the tree and patted one of gnarled roots. There was a faint rustle of leaves overhead.
“David! I’m serious I think we should go back.” The voices made me jump and my body tensed again as I listened.
“Don’t be so boring Peter.” Both of the voices sounded male. I slowly began to withdraw my sword and shifted into a crouch. From the direction I thought they were coming from they would spot my hiding place.
“I really don’t think this is a good idea. What if…” he broke off in a squeak as I launched myself towards them and pointed my sword to one of their chests. Then I paused.
“You’re human!” I felt my mouth drop and I almost lost hold of my weapon. I quickly composed myself again and slowly studied him. He was about a head taller than me. His hair was blond and was combed back from his face. His slightly tanned skin was stretched over high cheekbones with slight stubble scattered over his jawline. I couldn’t help but stare. “But that’s impossible.”
Before he had a chance to reply, I heard growling. They’d found me. I span round to face the wolves appearing from the shadows.
There was about six of them and they quickly began to circle, but I stood ready. The aches and pains from my body were gone and I was focused, letting my instincts kick in. The first attacked and I quickly raised my arm, killing the beast with a stab to the chest. The others soon followed. I kept my breathing steady and paced myself. The trick was not to move too fast or too slow, to fight with your own familiar style but still be unexpected. It was all about balance, precision and accuracy, attacking and defending at the right time. Soon there were only two wolves left.
One attacked straight on and I jumped over him, slicing him in the back and landing in a roll, but before I could recover another attacked from the side. My sword flew from my hand as it landed on top of me, its paws pinning down on my chest and its face snarling and drooling inches from mine. I grabbed it by its throat and pushed, but it was too strong. He was going to kill me. He just had to wait until I was too tired to fight, then he would kill me. I gave one final push and reached for my dagger, but that was also gone. I tried not to panic, but I could feel it bubbling up inside of me.
I can’t defend myself. The only thing I had left was to wait; for the teeth and claws, to wait for the pain. I closed my eyes and waited, promising myself I wouldn’t scream.
But the pain didn’t come. I slowly opened my eyes to find the wolf gone and the human standing over me, with my sword in his hand. I quickly scuttled away. I had let myself become an easy target. I was vulnerable to him, but I was still alive. I’m Ok. I’m alive.
“Um… sorry… I thought you needed help… I… are you ok?” He eyes rested on the floor. “I mean… oh s***; don’t pull a knife on me!” He quickly dropped the sword at his feet and raised his hands above his head. I paused with my hand held behind my back. I’d automatically reached for where my dagger would be. I spotted it amongst the tree roots. He had left himself defenseless.
“Hey! Back off! What do you think you are doing?” Another human came barging over and I felt myself start to stare again. He looked different to the first boy. His hair and eyes were darker, almost black and his features were less sharp, more rounded. It made him look younger, but on a closer look he was similar to the blonde; the shape of his nose and the curve of his chin. “Don’t just stand there, Peter, she just killed those wolves. She’s probably going to kill you.”
“David? David? Where are you?” A third’s voice was yelling from the distance. Now I felt myself frown.
“You left Julie on her own! Are you stupid or something?” The blonde one, Peter, sounded angry now.
“Am I stupid? You’re the one who ran back. I told her to wait there while I tried to stop you from getting killed. What were you thinking?” The two boys launched into bickering as the girl came stumbling over. She was small and young; a lot younger then the boys and looking even more innocent. Her eyes were the same shade of blue as Peter’s but bigger and her hair were long brown curls that fell to the small of her back. She stared, taking in the scene. “She killed those wolves and you helped her! They were my friends Peter.”
“Oh for God’s sake; you’re getting too old for these make-believe stories.” They were screaming at each other now. I felt my breathing quicken. This was just much. I can’t handle this. I could hear them talk but my brain seems to have just slowed down.
“Wait… what did you say?” I turned to the one called David. “Those wolves were you’re friends?”
“Yes. Yes they were.” His chin stuck out defiantly. I grabbed him by his collar.
“What did they say to you?” I started shaking him. I felt my anger filling my body. I wanted to punch something. “What did they say?”
“They were going to show us round. I just had to meet them in the forest. He was going to take us to meet the King. We would be his important guests.” His eyes gleamed as he almost spat this in my face. He sounded so proud.
“Look let him go. Animals can’t talk!” Peter was still yelling. He stood to face David, pushing me out of the way. “David stop being silly.”
“You really have no clue do you?” I backed off slightly taking them all in; Peter, David and Julie. They were so alien and strange. I don’t understand them. How could they want to be friends with the King? That’s not what is supposed to happen. “Those wolves worked for the King. I thought they were looking for me, but if they know you are here… the King could know too. Listen, you have to trust me, the King will kill you if he finds you. You are all in danger.”
“No… no they were going to help us,” he carried on speaking but he sounded less sure now. “How are we supposed to trust you?”
“I trust her,” Julie squeaked. “I trust her. If she was going to kill us she would by now. She could have, but she didn’t.”
“David, none of this is making any sense, but I trust her too. Whatever is going on here I think she is our best option.” He hardly looked at me but when he did it was like he was looking at something that could potentially explode.
“She’s an enemy of the Queen! She’s a traitor.” His eyes were wide, but he wasn’t scared, he was desperate. “We don’t know where we are and your big plan is to follow a traitor! She could get us killed!”
“By the looks of it, we are already in a lot of trouble either way and she is the one that is going to have answers. It’s better than wandering aimlessly around the forest.” He glanced in my direction then lowered his eyes again. He couldn’t look at me, but I couldn’t stop staring at him.
David carried on grumbling but he seemed to be ignored by the others. I turned, retrieved my dagger and started walking through the forest. I heard them follow. I had nothing left to say to them so I listened. I know I can’t trust them, but until they came stumbling through this forest, I thought they were the last of my kind. That has to mean something.
God she is fast. The uneven ground was making Julie stumble slowing us all down. The girl would stop to wait whenever she got too far ahead. At least she had stopped staring.
Maybe we should have just left when those wolves attacked. If I hadn’t looked back we would be alone and maybe that would have been fine, but I did look back and I saw the wolf knock the girl to the floor and I couldn’t just leave her. Sometimes I think things happen for a reason, and that’s why I followed her.
I’ve never seen a woman like her. She’s short, but her arms and legs were toned with muscles. Her pale skin was flawless except for the small scar on her jaw. Her green eyes were sparkling, but there was something behind them and that’s what intrigued me. They weren’t stony, more like fierce, more like flames were dancing underneath the surface. Her lips were full and perfectly curved and all this was framed with waves of bright red hair. It wasn’t ginger it was scarlet, like blood but beautiful. Some of her wild strands were tamed into plaits with threads and beads. Her whole appearance was wild and beautiful, free. And I saw all this as she held a sword to my throat and I wasn’t scared. Not even for a moment.
Then she started to fight and it made her even more amazing. She came alive. Her body turned graceful and smooth. She moved with clear experience and practice and it took all my effort to drag my eyes away and to walk back into the forest. It hurt to turn my back on her. I felt physical pain and I looked back. She was on the floor, struggling with the wolf on top of her. It made my chest ache. She just looked so vulnerable. I had already begun to run without even thinking I picked up the sword and stabbed the wolf, pushing it off her.
She continued to lie there with her eyes closed and I was scared that she was dead. It was the first flicker of fear and it wasn’t for my life. It was for her. She looked so peaceful, but then her eyes flickered open and relief washed over my body. I couldn’t speak, only stutter. I felt my cheeks start to burn and then David had come running over. Now here we are traipsing through the forest.
She has stopped to wait again. Her face was still blank but now with a hint of irritation. She only paused long enough for us to get a couple of feet closer and then she carried on her quick walk. I passed Julie’s hand to David and quickly jogged to catch up.
She whirled around and stared at me warily. I held my hands in the air as if I was surrendering. She didn’t smile, didn’t do anything except stare for a minute then started to walk again.
“Wait! I just wondered… Don’t I get a thank you for helping you earlier?” I flashed a smile at her. I’m not c***y but I know I’m good looking. I’ve never had a problem with women.
“I didn’t need your help.” She was blunt, her voice just as emotionless as her face.
“That’s not what it looked like to me. Are you sure you are ok?” I went to touch her on the shoulder but she flinched away. “I’m sorry… look… I’ve never done anything like that before… I don’t really know what to say…”
“You should have just stayed out of it.” She never stopped walking. She didn’t look at me again. I just can’t work her out. She wasn’t being arrogant, just matter of fact. I could feel my blood start to boil. She did need me. If it wasn’t for me she would have been dead and I don’t get a simple thank you?
She stopped. She stares into the forest ahead and her hand draws out her sword. I freeze. She may be beautiful, but she also kills.
“The fire is out.” She talks in hushed tones. “Stay here. Do not follow me. I’ll come back for you.”
Before I could protest she took off silently. David and Julia had caught up, but neither of them spoke. Julia gripped onto my hand. My mind was racing. What if this was a trap?
I heard a twig snap to my left and span around to see the girl walking back towards us, but she wasn’t alone. I head Julie gasp and her hand tightened around mine.
“Sorry about the scare. I put the fire out as I heard rumors of wolf packs. Good thing too from what I’ve heard from Red.” The man smiled at us as Julie edged behind me. “Oh, my apologies. I must seem so rude. I’m Boran. It’s nice to meet you.”
He bowed slightly. It took a few seconds for me to regain my composure. But David was quicker.
“What are you?” Typical David, never being polite and just saying what he thinks. I nudged him to try and shut him up. “What Peter? We are all thinking it.”
The man laughed. “Red did say you seemed rather clueless.” He carried on chuckling to himself. “I’m a centaur.”